Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How To Make Sausage Rice

This recipe is literally not a recipe at all. It requires two ingredients and I already mentioned it in the title of the post. But I will repeat them just for emphasis: you will need Chinese sausage and rice. That's it.

And here's what you do with them: Cut the sausage into slices, dump them into the rice cooker with some uncooked rice, the required amount of water, and push the button. As Ron Popeil would say, "Set it and forget it!"

Before long dinner will be ready and it will be one of the easiest paths to deliciousness you've ever taken.

How much water and how much rice? The answer is whatever you usually use. Two parts rice, three parts water works for me. And how much sausage? As much as you want. When you start to think it's too much is where it'll be about right.

The most important thing to know other than there's not much else to know about this recipe is this: Do not attempt to cook the sausage first. This will be a mistake. You see, you want the sausage to cook with the rice so that all that delicious fat will remain in the pot to lubricate the grains. What results will be something that tastes almost exactly like Hainan chicken rice--rice that is fluffy, flavorful, and rich, not to mention studded with pieces of that sausage, now rendered tender and sweet.

Another thing you should know: You want to eat it immediately while fuming hot. Some Sriracha does quite well as a condiment.

If you want to get fancy, you can do as I did recently, forming the sausage rice into a dome shape by using a bowl.

I also like to serve it with some Chinese chicken broth on the side. To make the broth I take a whole can (available for less than a dollar at Asian markets), dilute it with another can of water, and then let it come to a boil in a soup pot. Then I ladle the broth into a bowl with boiled bok choy and sliced scallions. The soup and the greens offset the richness of the sausage rice perfectly.

Don't believe how simple it is? Think of this: At this point, you have officially taken longer to read this post on how to make sausage rice than to actually do it.

Tavern on the Coast - Dana Point

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Benihana - Newport Beach

I have never been fond of the cuisine at Benihana, that is, if you can call plain chicken breast cooked on a griddle and seasoned with little more than salt, pepper, butter and lemon cuisine at all. The onions, zucchini, steak, shrimp, and everything else you encounter is cooked pretty much the same way. Two separate dipping sauces, one a mustard, the other ponzu, account for all the flavor you won't get from anything alone.

But you go because it is something you have to do at least once in your life, if not here, then another teppanyaki, which are, to put it bluntly, kind of all the same.

This is theater more than it is a restaurant, and each communal table is the stage. The food you see are mere props, the chef the thespian and slight of hand artist, rolled into one. When you leave, you do so with a full stomach, but with the realization that the significant sum of money you just paid went to fund the restaurant's insurance bill and to watch your showman perform tricks he is required to do: twirling eggs, flipping shrimp tails onto his chef toque, creating a volcano out of a stack of onion rings.

I recently took my friends in what was their very first teppanyaki outing. We had a fine time. But I found myself more fascinated about our chef than his performance. His name was Pablo and he was from Oaxaca. If it wouldn't have gotten him fired, I would've asked him to put down his spatula and just regale us with the story of his life.

Instead I recorded him on video, and clapped when he turned a mound of fried rice into a beating heart.

Meanwhile, at the next table, a young woman in a formal dress celebrating what I presume was a birthday got lemon juice accidentally squirted into her eye. She laughed it off, telling her profusely apologetic teppan chef that it's okay and not to worry about it.

Somewhere out there, Benihana's underwriters just breathed a sigh of relief.

4250 Birch St.
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 955-0822

Cortina's - Orange

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Spice Table - Los Angeles

How did an engineer who designed fighter jets become the sous chef for one of the hottest restaurants in LA right now? The answer: Passion. Boredom. Talent.

Bonnie Jiang's story has an arc that I'm sure she, herself, didn't envision. She's a close friend of mine. We were in the same classes together in college. She and I and our study group spent many a late night pulling out our hair at the computer lab, in libraries, enduring four arduous years of stern professors, tedious projects and droning lectures in thermodynamics, control systems, and fluid mechanics to finally earn a degree in engineering. And when we graduated, she was one of the first to get a real engineering job. And not with just any firm, but a defense contractor who built F/A-18 jets, which to our group was like being drafted by the Lakers.

But as the years wore on, she became restless and, frankly, bored with engineering. So she quit, went to culinary school, and now she's serving us a bowl of wonton noodle soup at Spice Table where she is, as I mentioned, the sous chef. She tells me she made it that afternoon and goes off into a passionate soliloquy on how she and Spice Table chef/owner Bryant Ng perfected the recipe after being dissatisfied as what passes for wonton noodle soup in San Gabriel Valley.

And it's pretty much perfect--the wontons silken pockets of unadulterated pork, and the soup as close as you can get to squeezing the nectar out of a chicken without actually doing it. After we inhaled the noodles, she went back to the kitchen expediting orders and being the boss since Ng was abroad attending a conference.

She then sent out some kaya toast. "Bonnie wanted you try this," the server said as he poured some sort of seasoned soy sauce into a soup bowl with a soft-boiled egg in it. "You dip the toast into it," he instructed as he broke the yolk and stirred it up in the sauce using a teaspoon. We did as he said and experienced enlightenment. There was a hint of creamy coconut sweetness coming out from the hidden regions of the toast itself, but soaking the porous points into that egg-and-soy-sauce slurry did something magical: it transformed this ordinary-looking piece of white bread into a salty-sweet-savory where-have-you-been-hiding-all-my-life revelation. If there was one dish I'll remember to order first when I go back to Spice Table, it is this.

From our seat at the bar, we watched one of Bonnie's co-workers fanning a rudimentary coal grill, our eyes transfixed and nostrils titillated as she turned the sticks of skewered meat over the glowing bezier. When it was ready, the satays and its homemade peanut sauce dip turned out tasting exactly like the ones I remember roasting under a cloud of billowing smoke at the night markets and hawker centers of Singapore, which is exactly what I was hoping for them to be. The chicken satay is sublime, juicy, well-seasoned, char-kissed; the tripe, though a little on the salty side, practically melted, its rubbery texture casted out by marinade and fire, and now taking on the unctuous verisimilitude of slow-braised short ribs.

Because it's in Bonnie's nature to not allow us to leave before stuffing us like gavage geese, we ate ourselves beyond our normal capacity. We told one of the servers, "Please stop her from sending out things for us to try! We still have the laksa we ordered."

At that point we had eaten a brisk salad of jellyfish that made our eyes roll to the back of our heads like no salad had ever done, fried cauliflower that came with an electric dipping sauce, addictive sugar-glazed peanuts with anchovies, and the short ribs we ordered but couldn't eat more than a forkful because we were already so full. When the laksa came, we weren't able to take more than a sip. A shame because it's probably the best laksa in LA, with the nuanced flavors of seafood, spices, coconut milk and chilies patiently layered into a hell-broth so rich and thick, it was a meal onto itself.

A milk tea soft serve and a kaffir lime custard that came off like a more effervescent and aromatic key lime pie finally did us in. As we left the restaurant waddling, groaning, leaving behind an abnormally large tip, taking with us bags upon bags of leftovers, we took heed of what Bonnie said about The Spice Table: they're being forced to move due to a proposed rail project. But I know by knowing Bonnie that she and the restaurant will always thrive, whereever they end up.

The Spice Table
114 S Central Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 620-1840

Pagolac - Westminster

Sunday, July 07, 2013

626 Night Market - Santa Anita Park

A warm summer's night. A thick veil of sweet, sweet smoke from dozens of BBQs. Food on sticks. Hordes of ravenous Asian people. The unmistakable stench of stinky tofu around every other corner.

This is the 626 Night Market at Santa Anita Park, and as of this writing there's only three more chances to catch it: tonight and August 3rd and 4th.

Herewith is a video essay of what I saw, smelled, and ate.

Pie-Not - Costa Mesa

Monday, July 01, 2013

Crispy Pork With Chinese Broccoli at President Thai - Rowland Heights

The first time I had this dish, we were at some random food court in Sydney. I remember it was cooked to order in a wok, and that among the ingredients the young Thai lady tossed into it was a flurry of white pepper from a shaker. The rest of the seasonings remain a mystery. But the three main components are self evident: fried shards of fatty pork, verdant Chinese broccoli, and fistfuls of chopped garlic.

As simple as it was, it remains one of the best meals I had Down Under. I'm reminded of it now every time I see it on a menu here in The States. And whenever I do, I order it.

So far only one place has come close: President Thai in Rowland Heights. Their pork has been deep fried and rendered to a texture somewhere between pork rinds and bacon, exhibiting the addictive qualities of both. The crispy hog scraps slowly absorb the savory/salty/sweet brown sauce and gets even better when it does.

I ate it as I considered how the snappy, slightly bitter stalks of Chinese broccoli brought balance to a dish that would've been way too much pork to take otherwise. Then I wondered whether I could ever find that random food court stall again if I should return to Sydney.

President Thai
1390 Fullerton Rd. Ste. 105
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 839-3340

James Republic - Long Beach